• 48°

Needing a challenge… Cyclones looking forward to squaring up with William Blount on the gridiron

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
It’s not about being on an ego trip or being boastful, but right now the Elizabethton Cyclones are looking and quite frankly needing a challenge as the season begins its quick descent toward the end of the regular season and the playoffs where Elizabethton knows the caliber of the teams will quickly be on an uptick and they want to be prepared and ready.

That challenge very well will be coming on Friday night when the Cyclones host the Governors of William Blount – a 6A school out of Blount County that knows what challenges are as they face some of the best competition east of Nashville against the teams in their region which includes Maryville, Bradley Central, and McMinn County to name a few.

“I think this week’s game is going to give it to us especially knowing how we performed against William Blount and how they played against us last year,” said Cyclone head coach Shawn Witten.

“They are a 6A team that plays in a tough league and maybe one of the toughest conferences in the state in 6A football where you have Maryville, Bradley Central, Cleveland, Ooltewah, and McMinn County – just a lot of tough football teams. They play against great competition week in and week out. Sevier County they played last week and Maryville Heritage a 6A school so they play some very good teams in the state.

“We need a good challenge,” Witten added. “They have big, strong linemen and usually have good schemes. They run really good plays. Their coach was at Blackman High School when they were really good and he coached Jauan Jennings and won a state championship or two so he knows what it takes to play at a high level.”

The Cyclones have been road warriors the last three weeks having to travel to Boone, Grainger, and Cherokee and now are ready to come home to their home turf.

Against Grainger Co. and Cherokee, Witten and his staff were able to use a lot of different players in the offensive and defensive mix which is crucial to Witten especially as the season begins to narrow.

“We have really tried to get plays for certain kids and we want more people to be a part of it,” Witten said. “This week’s game, they are really going to spread you out and really throw the ball. They have a senior quarterback that has already has thrown for over 1,000 yards. They are really tough.

“We are trying to play a lot of people. We are at the halfway point so this is a game that really sets us up for the second half of the season and we are thrilled to be back at home just to have our band and fans on our home turf and we are excited about that.”

One thing that the coach in his 14th season at the helm of Cyclone football is happiest about is the focus to detail that his team has exhibited and their ability to capitalize on different aspects of the game they want to work on from week to week.

“I have been pleased with how we have done that,” stated Witten. “We went on a 95-yard drive against Boone and we have really taken care of business the last two weeks against teams that haven’t been too successful this year.

“I thought all year long that we have really come ready to play and focused with attention to detail and have really been on our assignments.

“We have had only one game that took us all the way to the end, a 30-8 win against Science Hill, where some pieces we struggled through but there was enough cushion where you didn’t have to worry. Up to this point, the kids have done what we have asked them to do,” Witten continued.

“Sometimes against a Grainger or against a Cherokee it takes a slow start or the second quarter to get us going, but that has not really been the case. It goes by fast. We are enjoying it and enjoying every day that we get to play.

“We know there is a lot of football left to play and we are continuing to try and get more people involved because we don’t know when we will need them later down the road.”

One of the things that have been talked about from the local barbershops to breakfast at the local diners is the win streak that Elizabethton has been enjoying going back to 2019.

Currently, that streak stands at 20 consecutive games in a row and while it is a good conversation piece for the fans and the community, the Cyclones have been taking each week and trying to build a centralized message around the game directly in front of them while not being concerned about the win streak.

“Each week we try and take the week and tie in a game message,” Witten commented. “There have been weeks where we talked about being complacent, there have been weeks where we have talked about discipline, and there were weeks where we wanted to score on defense or special teams to be better in those areas.

“We talked about the next man up because you don’t know when the opportunity is going to come going into the Boone game.

“We have done a great job of tying in the week’s message to the game about the upcoming team,” continued the Cyclone skipper. “They come from an area where they play really good football in Blount County and its a lot like a playoff game for us and that’s the way we are going to treat it.

“I think our guys will be ready and look forward to the challenge. We don’t spend a lot of time talking about the streak. We have a really good team that has taken the needed steps to get closer together as a team. They are growing up and turning into some fine young men.”

An aspect that has been missing is having a band and the support of the community like you would have at a home game.

The season as a whole has been one completely out of the ordinary, to say the least, but Witten said that the Cyclones are ready to be back in Citizens Bank Stadium.

“You have to create your own energy when you are on the road,” Witten stated. “It’s really quite. It feels not like high school football and feels a little boring without the band. We have had great support over the last three weeks.

“We have played on grass the last three weeks so we are excited to be back on turf where we can play fast. We have to do a great job of not being one-dimensional on the defensive side of the ball.”

The game between William Blount and Elizabethton is scheduled for a 7:30 pm kickoff.